Are you developing a cloud strategy? Have you defined clear decision criteria to determine if your organisation can migrate specific IT services to the cloud? Let’s take a look at cloud services from a few perspectives; it can help you in your journey to the cloud.
What is a Cloud Service?
Today, cloud is a common term in IT. But what does it mean? A service is said to be a cloud service if it is made available to users, on demand, over the internet. The cloud service provider takes care of all required infrastructure and the user is only concerned with the output of the service.
Examples are Microsoft O365, Salesforce.com or Amazon Web Services. In addition to these public cloud services, there are also private cloud service providers that implement cloud solutions that are dedicated for specific clients.
A key characteristic that cloud providers advertise is the flexibility of their services. And indeed, it is usually possible to ramp up and down easily. There can be significant value in this flexibility. However, the full value depends on some additional considerations.
First, the ramp-up or ramp-down of the cloud service is usually the result of an external change, like increased demand for mobile phones in a web shop. To understand the real flexibility, the end-to-end process should be taken into account. In the case of the web shop, not only a ramp-up of the infrastructure is required. More mobile phones need to be held in stock as well.
Second, the requirement for flexibility should be clear. For this a forecast for demand should be developed. The forecast may well be based on historic numbers: What ramp-up and ramp-down have you seen in past years?
Obviously, security of IT systems is a key concern for all organisations today. Reputable cloud service providers understand this and typically deliver highly secured services. But, as with all other IT solutions, all security aspects should be considered.
For instance, if you use a professional cloud hosting service, security of the hosting service will be well taken care off. But application security is not covered by the cloud provider and needs to be implemented by the application team.
In short, professional cloud services providers maintain a very high level of cyber security. But security is still a major aspect of the overall solution that needs to be designed, implemented and periodically tested.
A big advantage of cloud services is the transparency of their cost models. Cloud vendors typically charge a unit rate for their services, without any hidden or additional costs. It doesn’t mean cloud services are always cheaper, but the transparency does allow a clear comparison between scenarios.
Another financial consideration is this: A characteristic of most cloud services is that you don’t have to make any upfront capital investments. All your costs are operational expenses, and if you stop using the service you stop paying; the cloud provider takes care of any investments. For many organisations this is very attractive.
Capital intensive businesses, on the other hand, may prefer to make the required capital investments upfront and minimize operational expenses. A private cloud solution might be more suitable for these organisations.
Stability and Support
Most cloud services are highly stable; service levels are standard and you’ll have a hard time implementing a traditional solution with better availability characteristics. There is however a related topic to consider in your decision making process.
You need to know what kind of support is available. This holds not only for resolution of cloud issues. There are many scenarios in which you may need urgent technical support from your cloud provider, even though the cloud service is up and running and everything is working fine. For instance, users are experiencing a performance problem and you need to analyse the performance of all solution components, including storage, networks, database, application, etc. The cloud service provider will probably need to contribute to this analysis effort because it delivers important parts of the overall solution.
So, make sure you understand and clearly define your support requirements. And make sure the cloud provider can and will meet those requirements.
Thomas Boon is a Solution Executive in the Netherlands.